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Even the novice poker player knows the very best hand you might be dealt is pocket Aces.

That’s A-A in the hole. It’s so exciting to peek at your holecards and see two beautiful Aces staring up at you. It’s a big favorite to beat out every other hand an opponent might have been dealt.

So why do your pocket Aces get “cracked” so often? Are you playing the hand properly? Are you making a mistake? If so, what mistake?

Probability is key: First, it is important to realize the laws of probability are sacrosanct. They are inviolable. How does this fact apply to your pocket Aces?

Your A-A is about an 80 percent favorite – perhaps even higher – over each and every other player’s hole cards (except another A-A, which is quite rare, to say the least).

That simply means your A-A will win the pot about 80 percent – 4/5ths – of the time when you are up against a single opponent. (Note: Approximations are fine when playing poker.)

Yes, you are a huge favorite to beat that one opponent out for this pot – four out of five such hands. But, most often, you are likely to be playing against more than one opponent. Your A-A has to stand up against all of them at the same time.

If there are two opponents calling you preflop, then you must beat each of them at the same time. There are two events, each independent of the other. One does not affect the other.

In such a case, the laws of probability dictate we multiply the two probabilities together to calculate the probability of your A-A beating out both opponents at the same time. And, if other opponents stay to see the flop, we have to multiply each of their associated probabilities along with the previous ones.

So, what is the probability of beating more than one opponent at the same time?

Let’s assume an 80 percent probability in your favor applies to each opponent’s hand. (It could be even higher, depending on their holecards.)

On that basis, with four opponents calling to see the flop, the probability that pocket Aces will prevail all the way to the river is: 80% x 80% x 80% x 80% = 41%.

That’s less than 50 percent; your A-A has become an underdog. It will lose more often than it wins – approximately 1.5 times as often! It is no longer a favorite. And, of course, if more than four opponents stay to see the flop, the odds are even worse – about 33 percent probability if a fifth opponent calls to see the flop.

Raising: There is only one way to remain a favorite: Raise preflop to force out some opponents. But you don’t want to drive them all out. Then your A-A would be wasted. Likewise, if only one opponent stays in, the pot size could be substantially limited.

That’s OK in a no-limit game if your opponent has sizable stacks and is likely to call your bets/raises along the way. But, in a limit game, it would be better to have two or three opponents – but, certainly not over four.

An exception: Some casinos have a special bonus for Aces Cracked. If your A-A in the hole loses, you receive a bonus of perhaps $100. Usually, this is in effect during certain hours. The purpose is to motivate players to participate in the game during that period of time.

Make sure you know when this bonus is in effect. Then, if you happen to be dealt pocket Aces in the hole, your strategy is just the opposite of the above. Now, you want lots of opponents staying in the hand. Do NOT raise! And, the less you invest, the better for you if/when your Aces are cracked by an opponent who catches two-pair or better.

The more opponents staying in the hand, the more likely you will win the big bonus. Hey, why not.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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